Defense Secretary Lloyd Austin landed in Afghanistan on Sunday and spoke to troops during a surprise trip, amidst pressure from the Taliban to honor the May 1 withdrawal date set by the former administration.
Austin arrived in Kabul from India and met with President Ashraf Ghani and other government officials, according to local media.
The US general told the select reporters traveling with him that the Biden administration is interested in a “responsible end to this conflict.”
“There’s always going to be concerns about things one way or the other, but I think there is a lot of energy focused on doing what is necessary to bring about a responsible end and a negotiated settlement to the war,” he said.
Austin said in a tweet on Sunday that the purpose of his visit was to “listen and learn,” and he added that the trip will “inform my participation in the review we are undergoing here with [President Biden].”
I’m very grateful for my time with President @ashrafghani today. I came to Afghanistan to listen and learn. This visit has been very helpful for me, and it will inform my participation in the review we are undergoing here with @POTUS. pic.twitter.com/ZE39tXZqvg
— Secretary of Defense Lloyd J. Austin III (@SecDef) March 21, 2021
His statements, however, come amidst a flurry of questions about the new administration’s strategy with regards to the Afghanistan war, which has been ongoing for 20 years now. Former President Donald Trump previously signed a deal with the Taliban to withdraw troops from the country by May 1 of this year if they could promise to work with the government and keep terrorist attacks against the US and its allies from being planned in the region.
Biden told ABC this week that meeting Trump’s deadline would be “tough” and suggested troops could be stationed in Afghanistan beyond May.
Suhail Shaheen, a member of the Taliban negotiating team, promised consequences on Friday if the new administration does not honor the previously agreed deal, saying there will be a “reaction” to the “violation of the agreement,” though not specifying what that reaction could be.
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